In God We Trust….since 1957_

No, it wasn’t always on our Money_

In 1956, the nation was suffering through the height of the cold war, and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. Partly in reaction to these factors, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution to replace the existing motto with “In God we Trust”. The change was partly motivated by a desire to differentiate between communism, which promotes atheism, and Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian. The law was signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, and the motto was progressively added to paper money over a period from 1957 to 1966. (Public Law 84-851)
The United States Code at 36 U.S.C. ยง 302, now states: “‘In God we trust’ is the national motto.”

Strict Separationists have questioned the legality of this motto because they state that it violates United States Constitution which forbids the government from passing any law respecting the establishment of a religion. Religious accommodationists, on the other hand, state that this entrenched practice has not historically presented any constitutional difficulty, is not coercive, and does not prefer one religious sect over another.

Critics contend that the motto’s placement on money constitutes a “law respecting an establishment of religion” by the government, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Separation of church and state. The In God we Trust motto promotes theistic religion at the expense of non theistic religion and a secular worldview. They have pointed out that the phrase originates from religious texts such as the Bible and has always been promoted the strongest by religious leaders and in religious contexts. Critics have further argued that it promotes the belief in a single, transcendent deity. While this is a belief that is followed by the main Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is foreign to the beliefs of many other religions.

For instance, Buddhists do not believe in a personal deity; Zoroastrians and Wiccans believe in two deities; and Hindus believe in many. And the phrase is meaningless to agnostics and atheists. As such, it would seem to violate the principle of separation of church and state. However, the religious motto has been challenged by three lawsuits and has repeatedly been found to be constitutional.

The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.” The decision was cited in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a 2004 case on the Pledge of Allegiance. These acts of “ceremonial deism” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.” In Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the Supreme Court also held that the nation’s “institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution’s authors intended to prohibit.

Some atheists, secularists, and/or separationists have been known to mark out the motto on American currency with a custom-made stamp.

Despite the court’s finding that the phrase is essentially non-religious or religiously meaningless, most Americans do recognize the phrase to be religious. A 1994 survey conducted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation found that “In God We Trust” was regarded as religious by an overwhelming percentage of U.S. citizens.

The court’s finding of Constitutionality for the phrase, as well as the justifications noted above, have made it more difficult for US separationists to challenge other constitutionally questionable practices, such as tax exemption of churches, legislative and military chaplaincies, national holidays based on religious commemorations, the “Pray for Peace” postmark, and, in classrooms, required singing of the fourth stanza of America and the Star-Spangled Banner, both of which include religious phrases, and the required recitation at government events of the US Pledge of Allegiance, modified by an Act of Congress of June 14, 1954, to include the words “under God”, especially since each of these instances are regularly used by accommodationists to justify the other instances. Atheists object to sworn judiciaries employing historical context in what they believe ought to be a raw textual interpretation.

Outside of constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.

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